So many of my clients have Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum) in the garden, and I’m often asked about the pruning of these beautiful trees. Contrary to what you might think, Japanese Maples are not difficult to prune, and proper pruning makes all the difference in revealing their graceful and elegant nature.
Japanese Maples work well in most Bay Area gardens, and hundreds of cultivars are available, with a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors. They work well in all but the hottest conditions (they don’t like hot afternoon sun), and can be grown in the ground or in containers. With moderate summer water and careful, well-timed pruning, a Japanese Maple can provide year round beauty to even the smallest outdoor space.
Most of the pruning done on Japanese Maples is for aesthetic purposes, to enhance the beauty of the structure and foliage of the tree. The exception to this is the removal of dead wood, which can be done at any time of year. Aesthetic pruning should be carried out as follows:
During winter, the tree is in dormancy, which means that the leaves have dropped and the bark is less tender. This is the time to do major structural pruning, such as removal of larger branches, to improve the overall architecture of the tree. Structural pruning of this kind is best accomplished when the tree is fairly young… once it has established a mature shape it is more difficult to alter it.
Late spring is the time for pruning away smaller branches to create an open lacy appearance. Crowded branches should be removed, especially those that are growing inward or crossing over other branches. When you are finished, you should be able to see light coming through the tree, and the overall shape of the tree should be pleasing.
Little summer pruning is needed on Japanese Maples. If your tree receives a lot of sun, there may be water sprouts growing vertically through the tree. These should be removed, but no other pruning should be needed.
If you would like additional information on caring for your Japanese Maple, here is an excellent article: Pruning Japanese Maples.